Monthly Archives: April 2010

Lex scripta

Lex scripta, “written law”, a thing you would almost take for granted. Our medieval ancestors coined the phrase quod non est in actis, non est in mundo, “what is not noted in acts, does not exist in the world”. Written evidence started to become the only evidence admitted in court, yet oral proceedings and oral pleading exist until today. I could continue musing on this theme, but today I would like to bring something else to your attention. Thanks to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, affectionately abbreviated to Penn Libraries, you can now find the digital proceedings of the second Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, held October 30-31, 2009, under the title Lex Scripta: The Manuscript as Witness to the History of Law.

In the proceedings of this two-day symposium edited by Lynn Ransom you will find papers by Abigail Firey, Edward Peters, Kathleen E. Kennedy and Susan L’Engle on medieval manuscripts. Jonathon Brockopp discusses early Islamic legal manuscripts -alas there is not yet a PDF of his and L’Engle’s presentations- and Georg Vogeler writes about the forms of presenting charters online. Timothy Stinson reports on the concluding panel discussion concerning the digitization of medieval legal documents. Hugh Cayless addresses the subject of open licensing and images of medieval manuscripts.

The symposium last year was also held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Henry Charles Lea, the great historian of the medieval inquisition, whose library has been held since 1926 by Penn Libraries. At the symposium Edward Peters discussed Lea’s early work and his views on medieval canon law. Speaking of medieval canon law: it is never too late to visit the new website of ICMAC, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio or International Society of Medieval Canon Law, launched last February at the University of Toronto!

Another vast subject of legal history is touched upon by many of the digital exhibitions also presented on the website of Penn Libraries at their Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Jewish law is one of the main subjects in the Judaica Online Exhibitions. This last section, too, helps to confirm the merits of the plural name Penn Libraries. Let’s not forget to mention the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI) with information on manuscripts from the Schoenberg collection and the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, the enterprise to bring together information on the sales and presents whereabouts of medieval manuscripts.

An addendum: these digital proceedings are really not the only materials concerning medieval canon law now available online. In particular The Medieval Canon Law Virtual Library is worth visiting.

A second addendum : Jörg Erdmann wrote a study called “Quod est in actis, non est in mundo”. Päpstliche Benefizialpolitik im sacrum imperium des 14. Jahrhundert (Tübingen 2006) published by the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rome. At the DHI website you can find statistical appendices to his book.

Yet another postscript: some images accompanying Kenneth Pennington’s lecture Legal Manuscripts and Books in Cyberspace can be found at his own website.


Two dovecotes

Sometimes you cannot imagine how you come back to a subject after many years. Fifteen years ago I contributed to the opening chapter of a book on castles in the province of Utrecht (Kastelen en ridderhofsteden in Utrecht, Ben Olde Meierink et alii (eds.) (Utrecht 1995)). In these years I lived not far from the remains of Huis Voorn, one of the ridderhofsteden, the houses whose owners were entitled since the early sixteenth century to a seat of the gentry in the States of Utrecht. Jan Huiting wrote a fine article on Huis Voorn in the 1995 volume. Of the seventeenth century building of Huis Voorn little is left now, only two dovecotes surrounded by the castle moat situated in an English landscape style park. Nowadays the triangular formed estate is situated between the Leidse Rijn river, the A2-E35, and an area with office buildings and a sport center.

Huis Voorn from the east

The dovecotes of Huis Voorn seen from the east

The former Huis Voorn was demolished in 1851, but the dovecotes remained. Archaeological investigations in 1952-1953 have shown the dimensions of the former house. At the entrance of the estate stands a nineteenth century house in eclectic style, now hidden behind scaffolding during restoration. The two dovecotes are scheduled for restoration in 2011. Doves no longer live in them. Egyptian geese (Aiopochen aegyptiacus) have ousted the doves. Huis Voorn used to be on the outskirts of Utrecht, but the area to the west of the city of Utrecht has become one of the largest building sites in the Netherlands. The presence of the dovecotes, the beauty of the small park, and perhaps also the presence of a veterinarian practice, have thus far protected this corner from being ruthlessly eliminated.

Huis Voorn

Another look at the two dovecotes

One of the books I read recently is the biography Alexis de Tocqueville. A Life by Hugh Brogan (New Haven-London 2006). During summer Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1856) often stayed at the château of Tocqueville in Normandy which needed restoration after decades of neglect. A running story in Tocqueville’s life are the seemingly endless building campaigns which often kept him from concentrated study and writing. However, one of the buildings on the grounds was not going to be restored: rebuilding the dovecote would wake suspicions of wanting to restore seigniorial rights, and therefore it was considered best to leave it alone. This exact opposition to the situation at Huis Voorn rekindled my memory.

Living memory of seignorial rights has long vanished, but buildings such as dovecotes bear witness to them. In the nineteenth century some people even built dovecotes as a folly. Around Utrecht you can find several examples of them (at Sterkenburg near Driebergen, and both Arenburg and Sandwijck in De Bilt).

A postscript

You might want to look at the digitized items from the personal papers, records concerning his official functions, manuscripts of his publications and much more of De Tocqueville held at the Archives départementales de la Manche at Saint-Lô.